Bill could make joining union easier

March 27, 2009 3:53:39 PM PDT
Pennsylvania Arlen Specter announced that he'll oppose a bill that would make it easier for workers to form a union.His opposition means the bill will not be filibuster proof in the Senate, and so its future is unclear.

"It's a really tight race right now. We're don't know how it's going to come out," said Attorney Robert Haurin of The Weinstein Firm.

He's talking about the political battle over the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. It could make it easier for workers to join unions in any sector, from construction to retailing to medical services.

"Hotels, restaurants, banks, you name it. And a lot more people, for better or for worse, will be in unions," Haurin said.

With a democratic president giving EFCA a thumbs-up, business groups are spending millions to defeat it.

Businessman Gus Perea says EFCA could impose binding arbitration over wages and benefits that could be a disaster.

"It could be a deciding factor why company folds rather than continues to work," Perea said.

Currently, there can be a two-step process if workers want a union. At least 30% must sign cards indicating that. Then, the employer can call for a secret ballot while telling workers a union could be a bad idea.

But, unions complain companies can coerce workers.

"There are case where they're fired. There's cases where they're intimidated," said Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO.

Under EFCA, the rules would radically change. It would boil down to just one step: If half the workers sign cards indicating they want a union, there would be a union. Employers would not longer be able to ask for a secret ballot.

"Without the secrecy of a secret ballot, to me that's wrong. It's a bad law," said Perea.

"We are not taking secret ballots away from workers. We are taking it away from the employer," said Eiding.

Unions say employers currently wield too much power. Employers say politicians who are elected by secret ballot and who want to take secret ballots away from business are hypocrites

. Whether the EFCA becomes law seems to be an all-or-nothing fight, and the battleground could be the United States Senate.

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